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Wanting to be wanted: a comparative study of incidence and severity in indirect complaint on the part of French and English language teaching assistants


Using data from the ESRC funded project Pragmatics and Intercultural Communication (PIC), this paper applies contrastive quantitative and qualitative analysis to data derived from oral statements, logbooks and retrospective reports by language teaching assistants in France and England. The data concerns their ‘rapport’ (Spencer-Oatey, 2003; 2005) with the members of staff responsible for their professional supervision and the paper assesses complaint behaviour across the two national groups. Basing our study on computer recorded discourse segments taxonomically codified as ‘negative assessment’, we show that the incidence of ‘indirect’ complaint (Boxer, 1993) is significantly higher among English assistants than among their French counterparts. A revised model for measuring ‘severity’ (House and Kasper, 1981; Olshtain and Weinbach, 1993) is applied to the data using corpus linguistic techniques. Its findings demonstrate that English assistants also complain more ‘severely’ than their French peers. Nevertheless, the difference in linguistic behaviour between individuals within each group is shown to be greater than that between the two national groups, implying that personality is a stronger determinant of cultural outlook than nationality.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Robert Crawshaw, Department of European Languages and Cultures, Lancaster University, Lancashire, LA1 4YN,
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D. Boxer (1993). Social distance and speech behavior: the case of indirect complaints. Journal of Pragmatics, 19: 103125.

R. Crawshaw and J. Harrison (2007). Politics and pragmatics in the cross-cultural management of ‘rapport’. Language and Intercultural Communication, Vol. 7 (3) 217239.

E. Olshtain and L. Weinbach (1987). Complaint: a study of speech-act behavior among native and non-native speakers of Hebrew. In: M. Bertucelli-Papi and J. Verschuren (eds), The Pragmatic Perspective: Selected Papers from the 1985 International Pragmatics Conference. Amsterdam: Benjamins, pp.195208.

H. Spencer-Oatey (2005). (Im)Politeness, Face and Perceptions of Rapport: Unpackaging their Bases and Interrelationships. Journal of Politeness research: Language, Behaviour, Culture, Vol. 1.1: 95119.

H. Spencer-Oatey (2003). Managing Rapport in intercultural business interactions: a comparison of two Chinese-British welcome meetings. Journal of Intercultural Studies, Vol. 24 (1): 3346.

A. Trosborg (1995). Interlanguage Pragmatics. Requests, Complaints and Apologies. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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Journal of French Language Studies
  • ISSN: 0959-2695
  • EISSN: 1474-0079
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-french-language-studies
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